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Ukrainian doctor slams ‘war’ conditions in country's hospitals

Market reforms leave hospitals on verge of bankruptcy

A UKRAINIAN doctor has spoken out about the “war” conditions faced by the country’s healthcare workers as they seek to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Olha Kobevko said that trying to treat patients was like being “on the front line” given funding and staff shortages, speaking to a reporter as she tried to fix a broken breathing machine after failing to find an electrician to help.

Dr Kobevko, the only infectious-disease specialist in a hospital in Chernivtsi, said the hospital lacked a centralised oxygen supply system, so nurses have to refill “oxygen pillows” and rush them to patients.

“A patient would beg: ‘Air, give me air!’ and there is nothing you can do,” she said. “You just keep squeezing the bag, unable to save a life. That is the most painful thing, and it costs very little to secure centralised oxygen supply.”

Ukraine’s healthcare system has been hit by massive funding cuts imposed as part of marketising reforms imposed by former health minister Ulana Suprun, a US healthcare entrepreneur of Ukrainian descent who was granted citizenship and a ministry by the Petro Poroshenko administration. 

The cuts have left hospitals without basic equipment, ended government coverage of their utility bills and forced medical workers’ wages down — Dr Kobevko earns a basic salary equivalent to just £140 a month, about the country’s minimum wage.

On accession, new President Volodymyr Zelensky attacked the reforms, which he says may force the closure of 300 hospitals and put 50,000 people out of work, but they have not been reversed.

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